11/29/2001 12:00AM

For some stallions, relocation is right

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Fall traditionally is a busy time for stallion relocations, as farms around the country settle deals to buy or sell stock in time for the upcoming breeding season.

In recent weeks, a number of young stallions with fees from $5,000 to $15,000 have shipped out of the Bluegrass, and the reasons behind some of the departures provide an indication of how competitive the stallion business is these days. They also provide some evidence that several states' breeding industries are gaining economic clout when it comes to luring stallions.

In the last week alone, four stallions with 2001 fees in the $5,000 to $15,000 range were relocated: Mystery Storm ($7,500) and Cat's Career ($5,000) to Texas; Our Emblem ($7,500) to Maryland; and Wekiva Springs ($10,000) to Florida. Earlier this fall, American Chance ($12,500) headed to New York.

Other appealing stallion prospects who have won stakes are heading for other states after retirement rather than trying the Kentucky market. One of those is Grade 1 winner City Zip, who will enter stud in New York.

The mini-exodus has hardly depleted Kentucky's stallion population. Subtract those horses from the 2001 list and add some new arrivals to Kentucky - like Albert the Great ($10,000 in 2002), Brahms ($12,500), Broken Vow ($10,000), and Five Star Day ($10,000) - and the list holds fairly steady at about 100 to 110 Kentucky stallions advertised in the $5,000 to $15,000 price range. That volume makes for a highly competitive market and, some breeders say, makes relocations inevitable.

New York, California, Texas, and Florida all offer incentive programs that pay hefty awards to their states' stallion owners as well as to the owners and breeders of statebred runners. Kentucky's program offers purse bonuses to owners of Kentucky-bred runners, but there are no awards for stallion owners and breeders. Their reward, theoretically, comes when buyers, lured by Kentucky-bred purse bonuses, decide to breed and buy Kentucky-breds.

But another state's stallion awards program can make a critical difference in the decision to relocate a marginally successful or young and unproven horse from Kentucky's highly competitive market. State programs that offer stallion awards allow the stallion to face less competition and to pay back his owners - a highly appealing combination.

"If you're standing a horse for $10,000 or less in Kentucky, it's just too competitive," said Michael Lischin of New York's Dutchess Views Farm. "But you can stand a horse at that price in New York, because there are fewer horses at that level in New York.

"The program helps the whole range of horses, but I think they especially help the marginal horses become profitable horses. It's difficult to make money at the track, but if you're the owner, breeder, and stallion owner of a New York-bred, you can get as much as 47 percent of your purses earned - and that's an opportunity to be profitable. Being able to compete in restricted company also protects you from having too much down side."

Another way that Kentucky stallion owners can minimize the down side is by leasing, instead of selling, a stallion to another state. That way, the owners are eligible for stallion awards while keeping the option of bringing the horse back to Kentucky if he sires a star.

That was part of the thinking behind relocating Airdrie stallion Cat's Career, whose first runners are 2 this year, to Texas. "He'll be a standout there, because he's by Mr. Prospector and he gets a good-looking, fast horse," Airdrie owner Brereton C. Jones said. "If you haven't got that good, solid stakes winner in the first crop, people in Kentucky just turn the page. But that doesn't mean they won't come back and breed later.

"I've leased him and can bring him back here if he comes up with a top stakes winner."

Some would like to see Kentucky offer stallion awards or other incentives, such as dropping the state's tax on stud fees, to keep stallions in the state. But for the most part, stallion and mare owners appear to accept the defections as part of the market cycle. Some breeders bemoan the relocation of favored sires and others will ship mares out of state to follow a horse they like or are invested in, but many point out that the sheer number of horses left in the Bluegrass results in some good deals.

Those deals apparently extend beyond the $15,000 level. The high number of Bluegrass stallions (427 in 2000, down from 455 in 1999) at almost every level is one factor in another trend breeders have seen for the 2002 season: stallion farms privately discounting stud fees, sometimes by 30 percent off the advertised fee.

"Kentucky farms are still saturated," said Suzi Shoemaker of Lantern Hill Farm. "You have a pretty good selection, and I think there are plenty of horses to pick up the slack. And some of the other states are good proving grounds for horses that can have success and then earn their way back to Kentucky. And earning your way here may be a good way to go."